Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) member companies currently have 234 new medicines in development for the special health care needs of children, the industry group said yesterday.

“Our companies’ targets include childhood cancer - the leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of five and 24 - and an array of genetic disorders, including cystic fibrosis - a debilitating and fatal condition that affects 30,000 children and adults in the United States,” said PhRMA chief executive Billy Tauzin.

Unveiling the survey, PhRMA senior vice president Ken Johnson noted, that, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), US infant mortality “has sunk to record lows.”

“A child born today can expect to live 30 years longer than a child born 100 years ago,” he said. “25 medicines are being developed for childhood cancer and 36 drugs are being clinically tested to treat genetic disorders. Our scientists are also developing 33 medications for such infectious diseases as HIV/AIDS, ear infections, pneumonia and hepatitis.”

Moreover, statistics from the American Cancer Society show that, because of major treatment advances, 80% of children in the US who are diagnosed with cancer today will survive five years or longer, compared to a five-year survival rate of less than 50% 30 years ago, added Mr Johnson. Progress has also been made against childhood pneumonia; according to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), pneumonia deaths among US children dropped 97% between 1939 and 1996, partly due to antibiotics that prevent deaths from pneumonia, and also from scarlet fever and other diseases that used to claim the lives of children.

In addition, new vaccines are protecting children against polio, measles, mumps, chicken pox, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B and meningitis, says the new industry survey, which goes on to show that, among the pediatric treatments currently being tested at PhRMA member companies are: - 23 for neurologic disorders, including epilepsy, which afflicts more than 300,000 Americans under the age of 14; - 15 for respiratory disorders, including asthma, which afflicts about 6.7 million American children; and - 13 for cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, high cholesterol and congenital heart disease.

Biopharmaceutical companies are also testing many existing treatments in order to determine safe and effective dosage levels for children, according to PhRMA. The Tufts University Center for the Study of Drug Development (CSDD) has reported that more than 120 approved medications now contain new safety, efficacy, dosing and risk information for children and teenagers in their labeling, it notes.